#50 - Scott Erickson, P (1995-2002)
The number one memory that I have involving Scott Erickson comes from my 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher, Mr. Thursz. He had a number of Orioles-related antics and one of them is that he would stand at the front of the classroom as students were filing in and announce that he was going to do his Scott Erickson impersonation.
The impersonation was this: Mr. Thursz pantomimed Erickson’s windup, then, after throwing the “pitch,” immediately turned his head around to look at the “stands.” Erickson always gave up home runs, he said.
Maybe that’s what it felt like in the mid-1990s, but as I look at Erickson’s Orioles career compared to today’s home run rates, 128 home runs allowed in 1287.2 innings doesn’t seem so bad. At that same pace, the 2019 Orioles would have surrendered 144 homers instead of the record-breaking 305.
Erickson was acquired by the Orioles on July 7, 1995 in a deal that sent 24-year-old pitcher Scott Klingenbeck and 23-year-old outfielder Kimera Bartee to the Twins. In one of baseball’s amusing little twists, the O’s had just lost to the Twins on July 4 and Erickson and Klingenbeck were the pitchers of record.
If you were following O’s personnel moves closely at that time, you might have hated the trade when it was made because Erickson had posted a 5+ ERA with the Twins in 1993 and 1994 and had a 5.95 ERA in 1995 at the time of the trade. That seems like a guy who you don’t want anywhere near an already-foundering baseball team.
Erickson, then 27, quickly proved any doubters wrong. Maybe he just needed a change of scenery. His fortunes changed once he put on an Orioles uniform and he went on to post a 3.89 ERA over 16 starts for the rest of that season. The team was 10-6 when he started a game the rest of the way.
Seven of those 16 starts were complete games, and two of them were shutouts, including the night Cal Ripken Jr. tied Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record of 2,130. There will be a number of other players from the scorecard that night who appear on the rest of this countdown. Erickson’s 1995 O’s tenure was worth 2.5 bWAR in just about a half-season. It’s been uncommon to see an O’s starting pitcher have that much WAR in a full season lately.
From there, Erickson settled into a dependable innings-eater kind of performance. From 1996-1999, he threw at least 221.2 innings every year, topping out at an incredible 251.1 innings in 1998. Relative to the league’s ERA, his best year was with the wire-to-wire 1997 O’s, when Erickson’s ERA+ (league average 100, higher is better) was 119. Even his worst year, 1999, he was only just below league average with a 96 ERA+.
This was a strong run of pitching. If things had worked out a little differently, Erickson might even be remembered as one of the postseason heroes of Orioles lore. When he left Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, the Orioles had a lead. In Game 5 of that same series, he was charged with five unearned runs in a series-clinching 6-4 loss.
The next year, Erickson pitched eight shutout innings on the way to the Orioles winning Game 1 of the 1997 ALCS. If only the rest of the series went so well. As with every one of the few Orioles postseason appearances in my lifetime, we are left wondering what might have been.
In the middle of the 1998 season, the Orioles signed Erickson to a new five-year contract that would begin the next year and pay him $32 million through 2003. Like many Orioles decisions of the late-90s and 2000s, it worked out poorly. Erickson didn’t even pitch in two of the five seasons due to injuries, and when he did pitch from 1999-2002, he had a disastrous 5.64 ERA - which even with the steroid-era offense was a poor ERA+ of 81.
This contract tends to come up on “worst Orioles contracts ever” lists, though it has, sadly for O’s fans, been eclipsed by some deals that have been handed out since then.
From 1995-1999, Erickson posted 15.1 WAR, which would rank 12th all-time on the Orioles leaderboard. Even though his 2000 and 2002 pitching took 2.0 WAR off and knocked him down to 14th, it’s still enough to put him on our top 50. Only one Orioles pitcher since Erickson’s time has passed him in WAR as an Oriole.
Erickson being ahead of almost anyone who’s come along after him is true in some counting stats as well. Erickson finished his O’s tenure with 79 wins, tied with Mike Boddicker for 10th place in Orioles history. No one has topped him since he played; Chris Tillman came just short with 74 wins. In innings pitched, he sits 11th, with only Sidney Ponson to knock him out of the top 10. Tillman and Ponson also did not make this top 50 list. Erickson’s 37 complete games put him in 12th and his ten shutouts put him in a tie for 11th.
You won’t find Erickson at the top of every leaderboard, but you will find him not too far down just about all of them. He was a part of two of the greatest Orioles teams of my lifetime, threw a shutout in one of the legendary games in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and if the rest of the team around him had done as well as he did, the franchise swoon might not have started until two years after it did.
All of that is good enough to have Erickson in at #50 on the 2020 update to our top Orioles list. Nothing against him, but I’m looking forward to the next good era of O’s baseball where there are new players good enough to take his place on a future version of this list.
Statistics and franchise leaderboard information from Baseball Reference.